Our agents are deep undercover (or under covers?) for the Winter season, but we couldn’t resist a bit of fun in December. As your ‘not-so-secret’ blog into the world of gamemaking, we thought it would be fun to expose a story, anecdote, or bit of trivia from various game makers out there. Enjoy the tales and we’ll see you in the New Year!
We’ve even located some top secrets from a few well known publishers, designers, reviewers, manufacturers and more. Join us!
Day 1 – James Ernest and a new game world
Day 2 – Jamey Stegmaier and the secret cabal
One evening at Gen Con 2014, I told my friends I’d meet up with them later, and I went off to the Secret Cabal’s annual Gen Con meetup at pub inside a hotel. When I got there, the bar was so packed that I couldn’t get in. Before I left, I walked over to the hotel bar, just in case I had the wrong location (I had expected 10-20 people at the event, not 100+ people).
It was there that I happened to meet Scott Wadyko, a sculptor who happens to live in St. Louis (where I’m from). Scott was having a drink with a few of his friends–I think one of them recognized my t-shirt and called me over. I ended up talking to Scott for 30 minutes about sculpting, miniatures, and treasure chests. We’ve been friends ever since, and it’s thanks to Scott’s incredible skills that we were able to produce the highly detailed Food Crate, Resource Vault, and Energy Box
(as well as some upcoming chests).
None of that would have happened if The Secret Cabal didn’t have so many loyal, eager fans!
Day 3 – Slugfest Games and Red Dragon Inn Theft!
The truck and the product was never recovered. Unfortunately for us, impossibly low-priced copies of Red Dragon Inn 1 and Red Dragon Inn 3 still pop up on eBay from time to time.
No one we’ve ever told this story to knows of anything similar happening in the games industry in recent memory.
Day 4 – Bruno Faidutti and curious way to meet your publisher
In fact, I started working simultaneously on three small abstracts. One became Babylon, the other became Attila, and the third one I had called Hex. One day I showed it to some one – I don’t remember whom – who told me that the very same game had already been published by Steffen Mühlhauser, years before. I got Steffen’s game, Six, which was indeed 95% identical, and then emailed him about it, just to tell him the story. He then told me that after having published Six, he had found out that nearly the same game had already been published, in Italy I think, in the seventies.
We kept on discussing light abstract games, and he decided to publish a developed version of Babylon under the name Soluna.
This means that the same game, still published as Six, has already been invented three times – maybe more. Anyway, Six is a great little abstract.
Day 5 – The Broken Token and Happy Holidays from Bob
Later the same day, we got another order, for the same item, with a similar note. “Please attach a gift card for my friend Joe: Happy Holidays from Bob.”
The two friends had ordered each other the same gift and had them sent to each other. We had a good laugh imagining their confusion when they each opened a box with what they had ordered for a friend, probably believing we had made a shipping mistake, only to find out it it was the gift from that friend!
Day 6 – Michael Mindes Rolls the Dice
Day 7 – Ted Alspach and Terraforming Terra
However…. the English version of Friedemann Friese’s Terra now has more than 2 dozen custom cards, while removing the same number that appear in all the other international versions.
Playtesting the original translated version revealed that some of the cards were way too Euro-centric for American tastes (Americans will make up about 90% of Terra English sales). For instance, there are four cards in the International versions about Soccer, but only one in the English version.
In addition, the International versions have a four-tiered set of difficulty levels, but the difficulty was set for Germans, making Euro-centric questions lower in difficulty than North American ones. We ended up scrapping the four tiers and replacing it with two levels: normal and hard (red bordered).
Another change is that there are different round lengths for each player count in the International versions (a handy table in the rules helps you out there). For the English version, it’s 6 cards (no table needed).
Oh, and then there’s the metric system. All English speaking countries outside the US are on it, so instead of just converting things, we had to include both measurement systems on each of the cards, and make the gameboard double-sided (Imperial and Metric).
Finally, the International versions’ map is designed to look like a textbook illustration from an 8th grade history book. Due to the natural impulse of American gamers to recoil at anything perceived as educational, the map was lovingly repainted by the same artist who painted the cover of Castles of Mad King Ludwig and Favor of the Pharaoh to look like a satellite map.
Day 8 – Spiel-A-Thon Trivia!
The Spiel is a podcast hosted by Stephen Conway and David Coleson and their foundation’s mission is to bring great games to children and seniors in hospitals and convalescent homes. They host the Spiel-A-Thon annually at BGG.CON where contestants assemble in teams to try for a top score answering some pretty bizarre trivia questions. Today, at the League, we have some official questions from Spiel-A-Thons past!
Here’s how you play:
We’re going to tell you the answers
One of the answers is 4. Another is 3. 2, 1 and 0. Easy!
The hard part is figuring out which one is which. In the game at the con, your team may only select one question, and then you score the answer – for better or worse. In this Spiel, you can guess them all, just for fun and see how you do. Answers now posted in the next window.
Day 8 Trivia Answers
How did you do?
Stay tuned for more Spiel-a-Thon in the Winter Secrets!
Day 9 – Luke Crane and the Burning Wheel review
On Saturday, there was a bit of a commotion at our booth. The other designers were crowding around a jovial gentleman in a colorful shirt. My friend Michael prodded me, “That’s Ken Hite. Go show him your game.”
Michael pushed me again, “He reviews games.”
“Fine,” I grumbled defiantly. Pushing through to the front of the group, I offered Ken a copy of Burning Wheel. He took it graciously and made some polite remarks about the presentation.
Still rather uncomfortable with the whole situation, I prodded him:
“You review games?”
He nodded and offered that he did on occasion in his column.
“You’ll review mine?” I pushed him.
“If it’s good, I’ll review it.” he parried.
I paused and looked him in the eye, “You’ll review it then.”
He laughed and took my churlishness all rather well.
But I parted with him satisfied.
A month or so later, Ken published his column wrapping up what he thought of Gen Con 2003 “What was it good for?”
He awarded Burning Wheel the “Best New RPG in 2003.”
I was floored. I was right: He clearly liked it.
Though I never expected that reaction.
Ken’s nod helped lift Burning Wheel into the public eye. It’s a debt for which I can never repay him—and something that I think about every day in my role as Head of Games at Kickstarter.
Day 10 – Seth Jaffee and Inspiration Stories
Some of my game designs have more interesting inspirations than others:
Some people think that Eminent Domain was created by mashing up Dominion and Race for the Galaxy, but that’s not true. My space themed, deck learning, role selection game was originally inspired by this simple thought – what would a Twilight Imperium card game look like?
I don’t know how many people found out about and downloaded my iPad game, Brain Freeze, while it was still in the app store, but I always liked the inspiration for that one: What if you had a trivial decision to make (like Rock, Paper, Scissors), but you had to make it under severe time pressure?
One of my more recent designs (Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done) was inspired by a misunderstanding of how Trajan would work. Early teaser info for that game just said it was like a mancala-rondel, so I took a guess at what that might mean… I figured you’d pick a bin associated with an action, the strength of that action would depend on the number of pieces in that bin, then you’d distribute those pieces around the rondel. As it turns out, my guess was backwards! But I thought my version would make for a good game, so I went ahead and made one. 🙂
Often times design inspiration comes from playing a game and thinking about what I’d have done differently. One of my latest ideas was like that – a game I was really interested in fell flat for me, and I wondered if I could have done better. I didn’t end up putting much thought into it though, until recently when I played a different game and thought “hey, if I used THESE tiles in THAT game, it would probably work!” So I roughed out some rules and I’ve only tried it once, but so far it seems to be a step in the right direction 🙂
My most recent idea for a mechanism (that I may or may not ever get around to using in a game) was inspired by somebody’s twitter post. I saw an image of something they were working on, and I thought “hey, that looks like the player board that could drive a euro style game!” In fact, my entry to the Dice Hate Me/Greater Than Games dexterity challenge was inspired the same way, by a picture on Twitter.
So you see, inspiration is everywhere. So keep your eyes peeled… if you blink, you might miss it!
Day 11 – Matt Leacock and Theming Forbidden Island
After we dismissed the space theme as hard to market, I briefly toyed with a story involving dwarves digging underground for treasure (instead of sinking, the tunnels began fill with rubble, then fully collapsed) and then dabbled with an Atlantis theme. While the idea of a sinking island felt perfect fit for the mechanisms, the Atlantis theme left us feeling cold. With the help of Gamewright, many friends’ suggestions, and the very talented work of C. B. Canga, we arrived at the look and theme that currently ships with the game.
Day 12 – Jeff Siadek and crowdsourced Design
Battlestations is a game about crewing a starship where your character moves around on the starship simultaneously with the ship moving on the hex map. Most of it is mine. Some of it is my brother’s. A lot of the best stuff in the new edition comes from the gaming community. I have found that if I have to correct the players dozens of times about the rules, it is my rules are that are wrong and not the players.
When I explained how the ship goes “Out Of Control” because of Helm maneuvers, players would say, “oh and the ship rocks when it gets hit”. I got tired of saying, “no it doesn’t” so I changed the rule. On the ship control card there is a track for speed and so many people said, “this is how fast your ship goes each phase, right?” that I had to agree with them and the new edition is much faster for it. There were some modules that could be used over and over in a round and others that got used only once. I got tired of explaining the difference. The final capper was when I got tired of hearing that people wanted “Battlestations” to be compatible with 1″ squares (and 28mm miniatures). I defended my original design by saying that to do that, I’d have to make the game cleaner and simpler such as having ships use fewer modules to take up less table space. Then, I’d have to allow modules to get reused and then I realized that the community was right. A cleaner system with smaller starships would deliver a better game. Besides, the 28mm miniatures would look cool.
I’m not willing to say that the community is a better designer than I am but they are the most important part of the development process.
Day 13 – More Spiel Trivia!
The answers would normally be 4-3-2-1 and 0. But in this round, there is no “2”, and one of the other answers is duplicated! See if you can figure it all out. Some really bizarre trivia here – Cthulhu to belly button lint! Answers now posted in the next window!
Day 13 Trivia Answers
Day 14 – Sen-Foong Lim and the Power of Permission
I design the majority of my games with Jay Cormier though we collaborate frequently with other members of the Game Artisans of Canada. Josh Cappel, who we first met as the graphic artist and illustrator on Belfort, is one such collaborator. We had been wanting to design something together as a “Dream Team” for a long time so when a brainwave hit me, I knew that it would be the one where the three of us would meet up in some sort of grand cosmic convergence.
Because of Josh’s prodigious artistic talent, we were pondering using Kickstarter to self-publish a game. At the time, social deduction games and microgames were all the rage. We figured we could make one of those. We wanted it to be minimal in components and I started to think about how we could eliminate components.
I had been watching my kids play a sort of Rock Paper Scissors variant they called “007” – where you beat your hands on your lap in time and every third one, you could do one of three hand signals: reload, shoot, or shield. It was ridiculously simple and ridiculously fun. This got me thinking about how to use fingers and hands as components. From there, the 3 of us worked to design and develop a game.
There was one major problem, however.
It was not very fun.
Looking back, I can see the problem. We were all stuck on the game being a bluffing game. We had a complex series of if/then gates in the resolution phase of the game. If you could guess what an opponent was going to cast, their spells would get countered and fizzle. What was supposed to be sleek had become bloated. It was no longer simple, but complex.
We banged our heads against the walls. We gnashed our teeth and pulled out our hair by the roots. We were just about to make a sacrifice to some Game God when Josh said something so simple that it was magical.
He said, “What if there was no bluffing at all?”
It was as if a giant weight had been lifted from our shoulders. We were akin to Sisyphus being allowed to let the boulder just roll to the bottom of the hill. We were free from our self-imposed cognitive cages.
Once Josh gave us permission to think outside the box we had taped ourselves into, we were able to quickly redesign and develop the game into a product you will see be seeing in 2016 under the name of
Rock, Paper, Wizards! from Gamelyn Games.
This isn’t just Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s old adage of “murder your darlings”. It’s one step before that. More that just having the willingness or the skill to change things, sometimes you need to have the permission to do so.
Sometimes we forget that we can give ourselves that permission. This is especially true in a co-designing situation, where other people’s ideas are melded with your own.
In a field where designers may doubt their own direction or decisions, the “What If” question becomes a very powerful tool for positive change. It allows you to broaden your horizons and think beyond the barriers you’ve built up for yourself. Without physically changing a thing, you can mentally explore other hypotheses and go off on tangents.
It’s something that I personally need to hear. I can’t just think it. It’s something that needs to be said aloud.
You know, like
“By the Power of Greyskull!”
Just remember, though: With great power comes great responsibility! Guide your imagination with healthy doses of reality. Inform your exploration with playtests. Get your prototypes made and we’ll see you at the table!
Day 15 – Randy Hoyt and a light in the darkness
Her mom had the symptoms of a heart attack, and they had to spend four scary days in the hospital for tests. They played a lot of board games, including Lanterns:
“Playing such a beautiful game about light in the darkness, and the celebration of the changing of the seasons, felt much more calming than any amount of cable tv or magazines could. Thank you boardgames and doctors and nurses.”
Making games can be a lot of hard work, but it’s important work. It’s such an honor and a privilege to get to make games for people!
Day 16 – Antoine Bauza and Competitive Ghost Stories
Back in the day (around 2005), the game was not cooperative at all: each player tried to exorcise as many ghosts as possible to win the game. It’s one of my playtesters who told me after a game – “in fact, it could be a great cooperative game, this one…” His sentence just rang in my mind and I redesigned the whole game to make what has became Ghost Stories…
Day 17- Shari Spiro and Cards Popsicle Humanity
It took a solid 6-8 months of planning to pull off and involved taking a 10 card pack and basically making a popsicle to fit around the pack. The guys said – we want to put a regular sized card pack inside an ice pop. And I said – “No problem!”
Of course it turned out that this was seemingly impossible to do at that point – as there were no popsicles in the world that could HOLD a card pack of normal size cards.
I had to create a brand new custom popsicle mold – from scratch. In addition – the card inserts had to be both food safe and freeze resistant. Then I had to figure out a way to insert 15 thousand of them into the center of popsicles and freeze them without cracking the pops and without having the packs protrude outside the perimeter of the pops themselves. Then special outer wrappers and sticks had to be printed – and finally assorted flavors had to be reviewed and approved.
For the basic test of how cards would fare in a frozen environment – I tested this first with generic foil card packs I had sent in from one of my plants. I tested them for stability by leaving them in my kitchen freezer for about seven days – about the time we figured they would have to last in the pops prior to being eaten. When I removed the cards from the freezer – most of them were fine- they were cold but there was very little condensation. I did have one fail – but it turned out that pack was not fully sealed – and the cards did not come out too well in that one. I determined that – as long as the sealing process was done correctly – the cards should be fine inside the frozen pops.
Getting the right size pack was the next thing we needed to do – measuring the maximum amount of cards that would fit into an ice pop. I realized immediately that since there no ice pops in existence big enough to fit normal sized playing cards, I would need to construct a brand new ice pop mold. So I set out to create an oversized a 3 x 5 inch ice pop mold – one of the biggest ice pop molds ever made.
After a ton of research and phone calls basically no one would do it. I finally bribed a small ice pop factory and convinced them to connect me with their contact in China to make a custom die that might work in their machine. But I have to say this – the man was not really taking me seriously – I think he doubted it could be done and he neglected to consider some of the requested details. For example, the die measurements he gave me would not quite fit his machine. So after months of personally micromanaging the making of the die so it would fit the cards correctly, I asked him to be sure the outer carriage measurements would fit his machine. He did not make sure. When the die arrived and did not quite fit his automated machine, we were able, fortunately, to have an older machine refurbished – one that could accommodate the new die. In that way we were able to run the pops in a more manual fashion than originally planned, but we were still able to run them. It was a lot slower – but it worked.
Then, another glitch – the width of the wrapper paper was so oversized that it would not run on the automated feeder properly – even though we had measured it correctly and it fit fine – it was simply not able to run smoothly enough in the automated carrier. So we went ahead and purchased two manual sealing and cutting machines to cut the outer wrapper around the pops and seal them shut. This was also a much slower process than anticipated. Fortunately I had padded the delivery dates.:)
Just saying – sometimes you really have to pad your dates.
After visiting the plant I basically had to stay on them daily in order to get the job done on time. Then I had to send a refrigerator truck in to drive the pops with a team of drivers over 55 hours across the US to Seattle in time to make the show. It may all seem a little insane, but seeing over 10 thousand people on the sidewalk – over a 3 day period during Pax Prime – eating the ice pops, pulling out their card packs and getting all sticky – was worth it all. I was supposed to be at my own Breaking Games booth on the 6th floor of the trade show – but instead I spent most of the show down on the sidewalk. I had the most fun watching people eat the ice pops. They were so huge and people got such a kick out of it!!! This was one of my favorite things ever – and I am so happy to be able to share the experience and say – we actually pulled it off.
Day 18 – AND STAR WAR SPOILERS (not)
Day 19 – Isaac Vega and The Rise of Ashes
So when I sat down to craft Ashes I thought about the joy those games brought me, and the things about them that I wish where better. As I continued to develop the game I looked to the other popular games, saw the problems they were addressing, the ones they were still ignoring, and learned from them how I wanted to make Ashes different. The development of the game lasted over two and half years and evolved greatly along the way.
In the end Ashes became the game I had always set out to make.
A game where players could:
take part in epic battles between powerful warriors from exciting lands that used their unique skills to destroy each other.
A game where a player’s imagination, creativity, and strategic thinking would not go to waste. But most importantly it became a game that I believe would have made middle school Isaac proud.
Day 20 – A Crossword Puzzle from Kraken Games
2. Game, 1
5. I live, I die, I live again!
8. An oddly phrased “Help Wanted” ad
9. Colonists are for Mars and Sestertii is for Vesta
12. It’s a world of slaughter, after all
13. Peter Piper picks this game
15. …and she don’t care
18. He who wears the crown rolls 4, 5 or 6
19. Fly me to the moon, let me play
20. Questing at Cliffwatch Inn
22. The harbor lets you build a settlement on water
24. Stop spinning the pearls!
25. A fantastical bunny race
26. You’re useless without your assistants
27. Making babies in a hut
28. Don’t put me in quarantine!
29. Too much orange!
1. Monument (no special function)
3. There’s an app for that
4. Ninja Leprechauns vs Dinosaur Pirates!
6. Everyone’s happier when Santa leaves
7. Kraken vs Alienoid
10. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
11. The last player builds and buys first
14. Apollo always goes last
16. Romans, Barbarians, Egyptians and Japanese
17. Make the right connections or it will all fall apart
21. Everyone knows where we are but me
23. plant, feather, fire, water
Day 21 – Keith Matejka and the secret dice
The idea is that once a die is gone, it’s gone for good and that specific die never be available again. It reminds me of when I was a kid when if I ever saw a police officer in my neighborhood, I could ask him for a baseball-style card of one of the police officers and they’d give them to me. Or, when I would see a mail carrier, I could ask them for rubberbands and they would give them to me. So, if you ever see me at a con, or demo one of my games at a game store or something ask me if I have and TWG dice, and you’ll probably get a pair. 🙂
Day 22 – Jeff Cornelius and weird themes that must be designed
However my little secret is that I also like to design games. I have weird tastes in theme and mechanics though. For example, I designed a game last year for the Gamecrafter microgame contest based on Venn diagrams. It’s a little abstract game that plays in about 20 minutes.
I’m currently working on a game about knitting. Yes, you read that right – knitting. It’s a little like Ticket To Ride. I don’t know if any of my designs will ever see the light of day but if you keep following what we’re doing with Cosmic Wombat Games you may see some of them. 🙂
Day 23 – Chris Handy and designing games is a long shot!
Long Shot popped into my head randomly, while riding a wave runner in the middle of a lake during the summer. I hadn’t considered designing a game before that moment of inspiration. I quickly made a prototype over the next 3 days. (You can see my proud moment of completion on video if you scroll to the August 6th, 2015 post at Perplext Games.
It was an exhilarating process! I spent some time daydreaming and came up with several other game concepts, which I began working on immediately. But, after talking to a few mass market companies, I began to feel like Long Shot was too niche, and wasn’t right for the market. I shelved it and began making more easy play/party style designs. However, my passion for meaty euros was growing and I was buying up every game that looked even remotely interesting, while my interest in playing party games was starting to wane. I began to get discouraged as my output on new designs was fantastic, but I hadn’t signed anything yet. Finally, I signed my first deal in 2004 for Linkity (a party word association game). Then, I signed 2 more party games in 2005.
In 2007, I pulled out Long Shot and let a group of college aged people play it. They loved it and insisted that I pursue it more aggressively. And so, I did. I revamped the images and a bit, and pitched it to Days Of Wonder. They actually really liked it. They kept it for a few months, and eventually decided not to do it.
In March 2008, I met up with Zev from Z-Man and showed him a few designs. I wanted to show him Long Shot, and he insisted that there was no way he was going to do a horse racing game. I hesitated a bit, and said, “Well…let me just show you really quickly.”
He said, “Ok, but I’m telling you, I’m not going to do it!”
And so, I described the actions you can take on your turn, and explained the types of cards in the card deck. He said, “You know what, I kinda like it. Let me take it back to my play-testers and see what they think.” And so, after making nearly 50 game designs, Zev and his team decided to publish Long Shot, my first design. Also, this was my first euro (though one could argue Party/Euro) publication as well. I thought it was timely to share this tidbit about my fluke design and also express my appreciation for Zev Shlasinger.
Day 24 – Gil Hova and sizing up prototypes
I have a game shelf in my apartment. It’s an Ikea Expidit, over six feet tall. If I have any game designs that don’t make it all the way through the process because I can’t realize their full potential, they end up on the case’s top shelf.
Being a short guy, I don’t go up there much. When I do, I usually unwittingly unleash an avalanche of half-baked prototypes in plain white boxes.
Sometimes, opening those boxes is wonderful, though. I’ve found early prototypes of games that, years later, worked their way to publication. Other times, I see an early game of mine that would be dreadful to play nowadays, but brings back all sorts of great memories.
But that top shelf is so hard to access, those designs are usually forgotten. Maybe it’s for the best; it’s easier to focus on my current projects that way. Best to just take what I’ve learned from my incomplete games and move on.
If I were three inches taller, would I still have that ability to focus on the present and to leave my incomplete games on the top shelf?
We may never know…
BONUS Day 25 – Tom Jolly and old ideas new again
I’ve become used to seeing old ideas getting rehashed in games. Some are comfortable, like an old coat, that I enjoy revisiting in game after game, great for playing in front of a fireplace with rum and eggnog when Saturnalia rolls around.
But the real innovations in game design truly excite me; the game mechanics that I’ve never seen. Or, sometimes, just the perfect application of an old idea.
These are the games that become Christmas presents!”
This wraps up the Winter Secrets series, although if we hear any other fun stories, we’ll add them here. We want to extend a HUGE thank you to all the people and companies who took the time to share a story with us!
If YOU have a fun tale to share about the making of a game, or some gaming anecdote –
we want to hear it in the comments! Thanks for reading. Cheers to games!
— The League of Gamemakers!
Latest posts by admin (see all)
- The Story Behind The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire – March 16, 2016
- Happy New Year – 2016! – January 11, 2016
- Winter Secrets 2015 – December 1, 2015
2 Readers CommentedJoin discussion
A truly interesting backstory on Forbidden Island!
Randy, an inspiring experience. Yeah games!